December 11, 2017

PRIVACY: Ireland risks shooting itself in the foot in crucial Microsoft email case.

The case involves emails held at Microsoft’s Dublin data centre. A federal judge in a drug case in New York state demanded that Microsoft’s US office produce the emails. Microsoft refused, saying that the appropriate approach was to use the well-established route of mutual legal assistance treaties, by which countries authorise the gathering and exchanging of information for such cases.

Microsoft rightly argued that to allow courts or law enforcement in one country to have direct access to data held in another violates fundamental privacy guarantees that make modern business possible.

International data exchange and storage are the basis for the multibillion-euro cloud-computing model, which brings efficiency and scale to businesses large and small. Instead of every company having to invest in costly hardware and software, they instead can use applications and storage made available online – “in the cloud” – from companies such as Microsoft and Oracle, which are among the dozens that now have enormous data centres in Ireland for this purpose.

Crucially, the only reason a US judge can even try to directly demand access to electronic data is because a vague US communications law from the 1980s fails to indicate whether electronic data has the same protection as information on a piece of paper.

Well, it certainly should have the same protection — but remember that no one’s life, liberty, property, or data are safe while the legislature is in session.

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